Priye S. TorulaghaSaturday, November 22, 2014
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Boston, Massachusetts, USA




s the Ebola crisis unfolds in West Africa, there is a feeling of helplessness and despair in the sub-region. The reason is that not much is known about the nature and characteristics of the virus. Hence, there is no identifiable cure for those afflicted. It seems that the only way to retard the spread of the disease is to quarantine those suspected to have come in contact with anyone that has been infected. This increases the fear that the disease could spread around the world. Already, more than 5,000 people have died. The need to control the spread is compelling various countries and international organizations to find a solution to the problem as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, Nigeria has been able to control the spread of the virus through effective management of the process.

In any case, the Ebola epidemic has once again highlighted the paucity of modern medical facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa. It also shows the low level of preparation in responding to emergencies or crisis situations by various Sub-Saharan African governments. This is why whenever an emergency situation arises, the effect is always multiplied tenfold due to the paucity of infrastructure, resources and preparation. Like in previous cases of biomedical emergencies, such as during the heydays of Influenza, smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera and HIV/AID, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is once again portraying Sub-Saharan Africa as the global zone of helplessness, despair and perpetual sorrow. It also creates the feeling that Sub-Saharan Africans are incapable of doing anything right to take care of themselves and must always be assisted by others to grow out of their misery.

Indeed, it could be said that Sub-Saharan Africa (Black Africa) has served and continues to serve as the zone of despondency in the world, starting from the slave trade, followed by religious and military conquest, political and cultural colonization and continuing into the 21st century with harrowing cases of human suffering and death, even though the economy is growing. The reason is that the countries in the sub-region of the continent are always one step away from experiencing a heart-wrenching crisis at any moment in time, perhaps, due to complications emanating from the contradictions of colonialism and the failure of leadership by indigenous political rulers. This is why when Central African Republic erupted in political violence leading to a military blood-bath, outside military forces had to be rushed in to stabilize the situation. Similarly, whenever there is a drought somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, foreign countries and international non-profit organizations are forced to rush in emergency food in order to feed the refugees. It was outside entities that intervened during the first and second outbreaks of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Similarly, throughout the political and military mess in Somalia, it was the United Nations, foreign donors and other African countries which helped to house and feed the Somalian refugees. In a characteristic Sub-Saharan African style, Burkina Faso is now thrown into a political crisis, following the sudden departure of long-time ruler, President Blaise Compaore. The country is now temporarily under military rule while other African countries are encouraging it's military leaders to expedite the process for the installation of a civilian rule.

The saddest thing about the state of helpless dependence on foreign countries and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by post-colonial African countries during crises is that they always call upon their former colonial masters to come and bail them out. By depending on former colonial powers and Western countries to bail them out, they sacrifice their sovereignty and create the impression that they are political dependencies, rather than independent states. At the same time, they allow their detractors to come and sow seeds of their destabilization.

One glaring area in which Sub-Saharan African countries have performed below expectations is health care management. Thus, apart from some of the Arab countries in North Africa and the Republic of South Africa, those in the sub-Saharan zone are woefully lacking in modern health care facilities. Due to the scarcity of modern medical facilities, the few operational public hospitals are always crowded with people. Sometimes, people wait endlessly for hours before they are seen by a doctor. On the other hand, the private clinics offer medical services at much higher rates. The higher cost discourages a considerable number of people from accessing their services.

A noticeable limitation of the public hospitals is that even after patients might have seen a doctor, due to lack of drugs to treat various conditions, they are advised to buy prescription drugs from private pharmacies. Since the licensed pharmacies sell their drugs at much higher prices, a substantial number of people ended up going to the open markets to buy drugs. Unfortunately, some of the drugs that are sold in the markets and on the streets are artificial concoctions. This is why sometimes people die after taking fake medications.

The question is, despite the importance of health care in the overall wellbeing of society, why are Sub-Saharan African countries lacking behind in updating their health care systems? There are many reasons why they are lacking behind. (1) Scientific medical facilities are very expensive to build, operate and maintain. They require highly specialized medical personnel, up to date medical technologies, and enhanced in-patient and out-patient services for them to work effectively. Apparently, many African countries do not have the funds necessary to build such modern medical hospitals. (2) Some political and military leaders either willingly or unwillingly ignore to build modern hospitals in order, perhaps, to create a wall between them and the citizens. Such leaders prefer to have their own health care needs taken care of in overseas. Nigeria is a country in which the leaders have either willingly or unwillingly decided not to build modern medical facilities even though the country has the funds to so. The leaders and the elites enjoy announcing to the rest of the citizens that they are going to the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and so forth, for their medical check-ups and treatment. This is why despite a huge population, there are no major modern hospitals in the country. Most of the public hospitals are those that were built during the colonial era. (3) Sub-Saharan Africa is bedecked by massive corruption. As a result, funds allocated for health care and other social welfare programs are sometimes embezzled by the leaders and high public officials. The embezzlement of public funds by highly connected individuals negatively impacts the health care system. This is why many locally trained doctors leave their countries to seek employment in other parts of the world. (4) Many African leaders do not know when to quit, so, they rule endlessly as if they are monarchs. This creates political instability, resulting in massive spending on security and less so on health care and social welfare services. Burkina Faso is now paying for an endless rule by a single individual. (5) Since the leaders and the elites generally are capable of traveling overseas for their medical needs, they do not seem to pay much attention to the fact that most citizens cannot travel overseas for their medical services, therefore, need an efficient and effective medical services at home. (6) Perhaps, due to mis-education, too much emphasis is placed on the establishment of scientific medicine. As a result, less emphasis is placed on cultivating and reinforcing the traditional medical system which people have relied upon for thousands of years. This is why the traditional medical system is not cultivated and organized in a manner to make up for the paucity of scientific medicine.

The lack of modern medical facilities leads to excessive dependence on others during medical crises. Unfortunately, the dependency results in Sub-Saharan Africa and the black world not being respected in other parts of the world. Thus, outside the continent, African leaders are generally regarded as incompetent and corrupt. They are also viewed by others as individuals who are willing to sacrifice their citizens in order to remain in power and enrich themselves. Due to these negative perceptions, the black person is always at the bottom of any measurable socioeconomic index in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Even the Arabs of North Africa prefer not to identify themselves with black Africa due to the "valueless" nature of the black African states. The Africans in the Diaspora pay the steepest price for the failure of Sub-Saharan African leaders who seem to care most about being in power and not much else. Even President Barak Obama seems to be disappointed by the behavior of Sub-Saharan African leaders. The disappointment, perhaps, contributed to the reason why the US refuses to sell arms to Nigeria.

The unfortunate thing is that by constantly seeking help from the outside, African leaders allow their own citizens to become guinea pigs in all kinds of biochemical and biomedical experiments carried out by outsiders who want to test their new products in black Africa since blacks are considered less important in the world. This is why many black people believed that the HIV/AIDs virus was man-made and tested in Africa, hence, the sudden spread of the disease in black Africa. They pointed to the fact that HIV/AIDS severely affected Sub-Saharan Africa while having very little impact in North Africa. Similarly, there are individuals who believe that the Ebola virus is also man-made. They believe that it was first tested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now in West Africa. There are some Africans who continue to believe that the biochemical explosion which took place in Lake Nyos in the Republic of Cameroon in 1986 was due to a biochemical experiment carried out by a foreign country rather than a natural disaster. Thus, Sub-Saharan Africa is politically and financially a cost-effective place for foreign countries, organizations and individuals to test new biochemical and biomedical products.

To avoid the state of helpless dependence on others, learning from the Ebola crisis, African leaders must change their ways and begin to invest robustly on the development and modernization of the health care of the African people. In this regard, as stated in the article "The Mis-Education of the African People", Africa is a natural store house of vast preventive and curative medicinal plants. Similarly, Africa is a natural laboratory for producing all kinds of preventive and curative drugs. In a way, Africa is a medical heaven due to the richness of various plants. Evidently, it is necessary to explore the rich natural biomedical resources of the continent. Doing so necessitates a proactive action on the part of African countries to develop effective self-reliant medical systems that are cost-effective, easily accessible and capable of serving the citizens in a robust, respectable and dignified manner.

Consequently, it is suggested that African governments should establish pharmaceutical agencies and or programs that cater to the exploration, planting and germination of herbal medicine. To do so, the agencies or programs should work with scientific doctors as well as native doctors/shamans to investigate, categorize, and document all plants that have preventive and curative biomedical properties. This should be followed by the establishment of pharmaceutical farms or plantations where certain plants with rich biomedical properties are purposively cultivated to produce drugs. With the acquisition of such knowledge, it would be quite possible to quickly identify which plant is most likely to produce substances that are capable of treating a particular medical ailment. Additionally, the cultivation of biomedical plants is likely to result in the production of cheaper medical drugs for the African population.

To make the effort successful, it is suggested that the continent's medical and pharmacy schools should deliberately create degree programs that integrate scientific and traditional medical practices. This is the only way Africans can be able to take care of their health care needs without crying helplessly for assistance from the outside. Countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Egypt, Senegal, Kenya, Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Uganda etc., should lead the way by establishing integrated medical degree programs. China provides an excellent model for an integrated medical program. It is not surprising that many Nigerians are now consuming bitter kola nut, believing that it has the capability to retard the germination of the Ebola virus.

In addition, Sub-Saharan African governments should encourage through grants, subsidization and sponsorship, private medical and pharmaceutical practitioners in the continent who have been operating on their own to join the effort to establish an integrated medical system. There are individuals in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and other parts of the continent who already have private herbal drug research companies. For instance, Dr. Githae of Kenya, Ibrahim Abou Eish of Egypt, Father Anatoli Wasswa of Uganda, Gordon Chavhunduka of Zimbabwe, Togbega Dabra of Ghana and so forth, have established clinics and traditional drug producing laboratories that are able to produce much cheaper drugs. Similarly, native doctors like Peggy Moeketsi and Queen Ntuli of South Africa and others in the continent have been very effective in providing medical services to the African people. It was native doctors who discovered that the African potato was effective in retarding HIV/AIDS. This is why many AIDS infected individuals in South Africa relied on locally manufactured HIV/AIDS drugs.

Every country in the continent should seek out the traditional doctors and work with them to establish a reliable and quantifiable medical system. It should be noted that in the late 1970s, one Dr. Njoku, a Nigerian, developed a cholera vaccine. The individual and the effort was not encouraged by the government, hence, the vaccine program disappeared. Similarly, African scientists and herbal doctors developed HIV/AIDS drugs when the virus first struck. South Africa and a few other countries have attempted to legalize traditional medicine but the efforts are half-heartedly supported. It is time African governments should encourage their creative and innovative citizens to produce drugs from easily available local medicinal plants that are cost-effective and accessible to a vast majority of the citizens. The opposition by the scientific medical establishment on the use of traditional medicine due to the potential danger of untested remedies is not convincing. The reason is that if traditional medicine is so dangerous, human beings would have ceased to exist from the face of the earth since for most of human existence, people have relied on it. Scientific medicine only came into existence recently and cannot be considered to be superior to traditional medicine. Moreover, most scientific drugs are developed through information passed on by traditional doctors and shamans in the world.

The importance of establishing an integrated medical and pharmaceutical programs cannot be overstated. It is the fastest way to solve the problem of lack of funds in building ultra-modern scientific medical facilities. An integrated medical program would result in medication being prescribed in two ways. A patient could be given a prescription that requires the buying of a finished industrial drug or a patient could be advised to buy the raw natural product and consume it in a dosage comparable to that of the finished scientific drug. A good example to draw upon is the fact that Africans use the chewing stick which is a raw natural product to substitute for the toothpaste and tooth brush. The chewing stick tremendously reduces the cost of dental care by not forcing people to buy imported industrialized dental products.

An important advantage of developing an African based integrated medical system is that it would stop African political and military leaders from going overseas for medical services while leaving the rest of the citizens to seek medical care in highly underequipped health care systems at home. Many African leaders do not seem to realize that it is a threat to the national security of their countries for them to seek health care services in foreign countries. Leaders who travel overseas for health care services expose themselves to all kinds of biomedical experiments. They can easily be poisoned by the intelligence operatives of the countries in which they go for their medical services. In addition, devices could be planted in their bodies to gather intelligence when they return home. It is unfortunate that many African leaders and elites are not conscious of the fact that they endanger themselves and their countries by seeking health care abroad.

It is hoped that African leaders would finally wake up and become dedicated and honestly committed to planning, developing and modernizing the social, political, educational and health care infrastructure after the Ebola menace subsides. The world is getting tired of seeing on television, hapless and helpless Africans groping for life, whether during civil wars or droughts or medical epidemics or emergencies. The frequency of heart-wrenching situations in Sub-Saharan Africa seems to portray Sub-Saharan Africans in particular and black people in general as people lacking the intellectual and mental capability to rule and take care of themselves. Consequently, it is time for African people to use the resources in their environment to create and institute sustainable, cost-effective and workable systems that are compatible with the African natural, social and cultural environments. An integrated health care system which incorporates both scientific and traditional medicines would go a long way in reducing helplessness and dependency. It would also help to stop the spread of viruses, whether natural or man-made.

Likewise, an integrated health care system with a concentration on traditional herbal medicine is likely to lead to self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency, in turn, would result in self-reliance. Self-reliance would eventually lead to less reliance on foreign aid and foreign assistance. The reason is that due to the Machiavellian nature of international politics, many foreign countries and international organizations hide behind the notion of humanitarian assistance to come into black Africa and sow seeds of destruction in various ways.

In conclusion, it is compelling to wonder why Sub-Saharan Africa is always afflicted by new viral diseases. Is it natural and proper for a particular region of the world to be frequently afflicted by one disease or another? Are various viral afflictions man-made and intended to create a stereotypical impression that people in black Africa are inferior and could be used for biomedical experiments without their permission? Is someone or entity somewhere in the world trying intentionally to reduce the population of a given race in the world through tactical elimination? The wonderment is compelled by the fact that a large proportion of new viral diseases seem to take place in Sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from threats emanating from biomedical viruses, the frequency of political, climatological, and military conflicts and disasters also tend to create the feeling that someone or entity somewhere in the world does not want people in the Sub-Saharan African region to thrive socially, politically, medically and economically. Indeed, the timing of the Ebola outbreak creates suspicion in the sense that now that Sub-Saharan African economies are increasingly doing well, the virus strikes to retard the growth. Before Ebola, it was HIV/AIDS which inflicted so much damage on the human, social and economic spheres of the sub-continent.

Meanwhile, all African governments should muster their traditional and scientific doctors to work together to find out which plant(s) has curative properties to stop the Ebola. The Nigerian government should immediately set up a team to investigate the properties of the bitter kola nut and any other plant that could help in the effort to stop Ebola from ravaging the population of West Africa. Immediate action is needed to stop the Ebola virus because the current strategy of detaining people tactically through quarantining, as Isha Sesay of the CNN noted, is causing enormous suffering in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Similarly, the manner in which the world media cover the Ebola crisis indicates that it is time for Africans to take care of their affairs and stop hoping for foreign countries to come and bail them out.